By Jody Weyers, Volunteer and Communications Director
How do I even start to share about this amazing journey I have been on for the past week? I will start from the beginning. I landed in Denver, Colorado, Sunday, Sept 15 around 12:30 pm. I pick up my rental car and called Hector Emanuel, the photographer, I would be paired with for the next week, to see where he was at.
He, and his assistant Liz Preovolos, were at a Red Cross shelter in Greely, Colorado. I looked at my gps, and it was about an hour drive. Upon my arrival in Denver, it was a very gray, rainy and cold day. I headed off to Greely, and as I got closer, it was harder and harder to get there. I stop at a local gas station 10 miles from Greely, and ask how to get there. With roads washed out, and/or flooded, it was almost impossible. The store clerk, providing me some alternative routes, and thanked me for my work. I had on my Red Cross hat and sweatshirt, and I am once again reminded of the power of the Red Cross symbol. The clerk, comes out from behind the counter, and asks “Can I give you a hug?” Of course, I say yes.
I finally make it to the City of Greely Recreation Center, after many detours. I go inside and there is a flurry of activity. I meet up with Hector and Liz, who arrived the day before, and have spent most of the day at the shelter. They give me a tour of the facility, I talked with some of the volunteers, and clients, and then we head back to our home base in Loveland, Colorado for the night.
This would be the start of our routine for the week. Hector, would go to his room to look at his pictures from the day, and pick the best 25-30 photos to send to American Red Cross National Headquarters. The three of us would meet in the hotel lounge, and we would go over photo release forms, identify the people in each picture, and write the caption for each photo to share their story.
Why are we doing this you ask? These photos and stories paint a picture of how the American Red Cross is assisting the people of Colorado. We are bringing a face to the American people, so when people donate, they know who and how they are helping. We are telling our story!
Monday, September 16 –
The three of us meet down in the hotel lounge for breakfast and we make our game plan for the day. We focus on the Red Cross shelters that are set up to house the many people displaced. Sunday night there was 1,000 people that stayed in 24 different shelters across Colorado.
First Stop, Thompson School District Building, in Loveland, Colorado. We met a family who had not one, not two, but three disasters displace them from their homes, over the past six months. The Oft family moved from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, after two tornadoes ripped through their town and damaged their home. They moved to Drake, CO to be closer to family. They barely had enough time to evacuate as the flood waters started rise over the roads. Charlsey Oft said, “When you have kids, you can’t think of the bad stuff, you have to carry on and we are thankful for the goodness of others.”
The second shelter we visited was Niwot High School, in Niwot, Colorado. The people at this shelter were airlifted to safety because of the roads being washed out and they were not able to get out by vehicle. This is were we met Donna Hitz, 81 from Lyons, Colorado. She had such a good spirit and attitude. I was cracking up laughing because she was telling me about how handsome the pilots were in their uniform, and she would do it all over again for a ride with them.
The third shelter we went to was the YMCA of Boulder Valley, in Boulder, Colorado. There was a lot of activity at this shelter, because business did not shut down for the YMCA, so you had their customers coming to workout, among all the people displaced. This is were we met Esther Peter, who had such a beautiful soul and strength about her. She and her five sisters, brother and mom, evacuated to the Boulder shelter, after water started running into their apartment building. They were able to grab a few items, important documents and that was it. Originally from South Sudan, they moved to Kenya. After enduring a lifetime of hardships in a country engaged in armed conflict, she came to the United States to build a better life with her family. Esther had to leave her two young daughters with family in Kenya, with hopes to reunite in Boulder as soon as possible.
Our final shelter of the day we visited was Mead High School, in Longmont, Colorado. Hector and Liz were here the day before, and talked with many families, and we wanted to go back to see how some of them were doing. At this point in the disaster operation, some of these families have been in a shelter for 4-5 days and wanted to go home, but some didn’t have a home to go back to. To create some normalcy for the children, some of the volunteers took the children outside on the football field to play with balls, run around, and just be kids! It was great to hear their laughter, and for one small moment, they were able to forget about everything going on around them.
Tuesday, September 17
We checked in at the Northern Operation Headquarters, at the Larimer County Fairgrounds, in Loveland, Colorado. We talked with Mike Cooper, who was in charge of the Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV’s) and the workers who drove the vehicles and where they went each day. We teamed up with ERV Drivers, Dennis and Dustin, both from Kansas. Their job was to “search and serve” in some of the hard hit areas in Northern Colorado.
We followed behind the ERV in our vehicle, as they went up and down roads and stopping occasionally to see if people needed help. We came across this road closure in Evans, Colorado and discovered, five or six guys trying to clean up their property from the floods. They were blocked in because one way the road was still flooded, and the other end of their road was barricaded. Dustin and Dennis stopped the ERV, and we provided these families, with cleanup kits (including bleach, gloves, mop, broom, and bucket), hygiene kits(including basic toiletry items), tarps, shovels, and garbage bags. The flood waters rushed into their home, and like so many others, it came in so fast, they barely had time to evacuate. We also let them know that they could get a hot meal, shower, and other needed items at the City of Greely Recreation Center. It felt great to be able to help these people, and provide resources to them, because they felt like they were all alone blocked in on their road.
In the afternoon, we split from Dennis and Dustin and we headed to a shelter at Timberline Church in Fort Collins. This shelter was another place evacuees went to who were rescued off Storm Mountain in Drake, Colorado. While we were there, a bus pulled up, and Jason and Jennifer Morgan, walked off with their three dogs and one cat. The only road up and down the mountain was washed away, so they had to be evacuated from the mountain by helicopter. They waited as long as they could because they had to leave their nine horses behind.
The people who were rescued by helicopter, were loaded in busses, delivered to this shelter, and if they had family to stay with, they could pick them up here. If they had no place to go, they would register and stay in the shelter. Everyone who came off the bus, Red Cross had them register with our Safe & Well site, so loved ones searching for them would know they are ok. As of Sunday, September 22, 1,588 people had registered themselves safe and well on our site.
To be continued…..